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Worst US drought in half a century threatens higher global food prices

"... worst hit are likely to be dairy, pork, poultry and beef farmers, who are seeing their feed costs go through the roof and already taking action to reduce their herd sizes. Consumers may not see immediate food inflation, but it is coming."
Chicago Tribune July 20

Just when we were kinda recovering from the effects of the horrible cold weather on crops a year or two ago!

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  1. And, by way of contrast, the UK's wettest summer since records began is also affecting supplies and prices.

    Swap you some of our rain for some of your drought?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      wouldn't that be nice!

      Add the drought to the crazy warm weather we had in March which caused fruit trees to bud too early, then the buds died in subsequent frosts...it will be a bad year for a lot of farmers and certainly for consumers

      1. re: coney with everything

        My favorite peach vendor at my local farmer's market suffered a 95% crop loss because of the budding followed by frosts. I fear the apple crop has suffered just as badly.

        1. re: nofunlatte

          The tart cherry crop in Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin suffered a similar fate. I read where they are importing tart cherries from Poland to keep their processing plants operating.

          1. re: John E.

            I read that too (NYTimes maybe?) How devastating for the growers. I visited a friend of mine in Michigan earlier this summer and she told me about the tart cherry disaster. Thankfully, the blueberries fared reasonably well!

            1. re: nofunlatte

              Before I was born my parents and oldest siblings lived in Michigan. I remember hearing about the Michigan peaches and blueberries and how great they were.

            2. re: nofunlatte

              I'm hearing here in the GTA that the apple crop is horrible and that wild life are taking to peoples back yard gardens to feed themselves.
              So growing your own may not help mitigate the cost of commodities in the near future.

              DT

        2. Even more reasons now for Americans to eat more vegetables and fruits, nuts...etc...those foods might also see an impact but not as much as the meat and dairy, IMO.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Val

            Oh, but I've seen news coverage of decimated corn crops, so that veggie may be scarce and/or expensive, too, plus water-loving things like peppers, melons and tomatoes (and salad greens and on and on...)

            1. re: pine time

              pinetime, corn is used to feed livestock in great quantities...so that would be the driving factor in food prices shooting up, related to livestock...if consumers quit eating so much meat/pork/chicken, then they can save some significant $$$ -- I think!!! Salad greens seem to come mostly from California...again, I think! We shall see...but meat and chicken prices have been going up for a long time, not just now. Thanks!

              1. re: Val

                True, true. Corn that is tax payer subsidized goes to feed livestock that doesn't really want to eat it. Hopefully people will cut back on some meat buying. . .and start growing your own vegetables. It's always nice for us to start stocking our shelves and freezer with preserved vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, swiss chard and the like. And we grew (and therefore ate) enough lettuce this year that if I don't see a salad again until next spring, that will be just fine with me!

                1. re: gourmanda

                  I am imagining big price increases in dairy milk and cheeses too of course! YES to growing your own, even if it's only herbs! You can grow herbs in an apartment even, sunny window helps certainly.

                  1. re: gourmanda

                    Corn is no longer subsidized except for the ethanol industry. At about $8 per bushel, and soybeans at $15 per bushel, crop farmers are making top dollar without subsidies.

                2. re: pine time

                  I've seen it first hand in Alabama. One farm we passed had the crops all cut down. Most were very brown, none were green and a few others were obviously dead but still standing.

                  DT

                  1. re: viperlush

                    Haha. The usual suspects didn't miss a beat in opposing that proposal.

                3. Uncontrollable weather is just (1) very real reason Ethanol can not be taken seriously as an alternative energy source. Messing up the global food supply is another.

                  12 Replies
                    1. re: Tom34

                      Well...maybe ethanol from corn.

                      Michael Pollan once said that photosynthesis is the closest thing to a free lunch, so I'm not giving up on biofuels yet.

                      1. re: coney with everything

                        He was not referring to production of fuel for your automobile.

                        1. re: gourmanda

                          I realize that MP wasn't discussing fuel for cars, but the concept is the same--it's renewable

                        2. re: coney with everything

                          corn is bad news. rapeseed, oilpalm? much better investments. And the right fuel is biodiesel.

                          1. re: coney with everything

                            Brazil does very well but they are starting off with sugar, not corn which requires a tremendous amount of energy to be turned into sugar which is then turned into ethanol. Better off harvesting the methane cows give off eating it. LOL!

                            I am all for alternative energy BUT competing with the BTU content of fossil fuels & nuclear fission, the global availability of them and the vast infrastructure in place to extract them, process/refine them and deliver them to the retail consumer can't be done even with the current massive Government Subsidies. Continues research YES, practical at this time, NO.

                            1. re: Tom34

                              50 years on fission, and already at peak oil. research NOW., prototype NOW. And let brazil get the extra money...

                              1. re: Chowrin

                                It could be argued that Easily / cheaply ex-tractable crude in hospitable climates close to pipelines /shipping infrastructure has peaked (the easily picked fruit on the bottom of the tree has been picked) but vast new discoveries are being developed but they take a long time to bring on line are costlier, but nowhere near as costly as ethanol.

                                When alternative energy becomes profitable without Gov subsidies & mandates private equity will flow and bring them on line. Unfortunately, ANYTHING putting a significant dent in the 21 million barrels of crude (close to 900 MILLION gallons) the US consumes a year is a long way off.

                                Here is a novel idea: Cut the weight & horsepower of vehicles 40% overall and reduce crude consumption by 25%. That can be done very quickly and will exceed the "pipe dream" estimates 20% alternative energy projections by 2020.

                                1. re: Tom34

                                  yeah, cutting the safety regs on US cars would do us a world of good.
                                  getting people to walk to the supermarket would be even better (a gal can dream, right?)

                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                    I am not sure how cutting horsepower & weight translates into into cutting safety regulations. Getting the 5000 lb suvs with their high bumpers off the road would not only reduce the energy transfer during impacts but it would also reduce the high hits to the weakest part of the vehicle.

                                2. re: Chowrin

                                  oops, sorry..... meant to say close to 21million barrels (900 million gallons) per DAY, not year.

                                  1. re: Tom34

                                    "vast new discoveries are being developed but they take a long time to bring on line are costlier, but nowhere near as costly as ethanol."

                                    Thinking solely in terms of short-term costs won't help the next generations. The long-term costs of continuing to pursue energy sources that adversely affect the climate may be many orders of magnitude higher.

                          2. Ethanol was a lousy fuel when Germany made it during WWII, no different when Pres. Carter endorsed it after the Arab oil embargo during the 70's & no different today. Highly corrosive & poor energy balance.

                            Our corn & grain crops are critical components to the world food supply. Unfortunately we take them for granted and it takes a relatively rare weather related disaster like we are currently experiencing to realize just how important they are. I also think its a good topic for Chow Hound because many restaurants are currently struggling with food costs now and this has the potential to be devastating, especially to the small family run restaurants. Lets hope imports help offset the shortages.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Tom34

                              I remember when corn was less than $2 per bushel less than a generation ago. Back then ethanol might have made a bit of sense but not at 8 bucks a bushel.

                              1. re: John E.

                                Well, now that ethanol has largely replaces MTBE as a fuel additive, we are about to see what $8.00 a bushel ethanol looks like.

                                Only Governmental Madness could result in subsidizing such a boondoggle. Same could be said of Governmental Jurisdictional infighting that requires 20 different gasoline blends in a single Country.

                                1. re: Tom34

                                  I like the idea of ethanol much more than the MTBE stuff. You're right. If we could somehow get just a couple gasoline blends it would help simplify things.

                                  There are 21 ethanol plants in Minnesota and 36 in Iowa and all were subsidized with millions of federal dollars otherwise they would not exist.

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    The energy to extract crude oil, transport it & refined it and then distribute it is accomplished with other (sinister) fossil fuels. Want to see something funny, use energy from ethanol from start to finish making ethanol (turning fields, planting seeds, crop dusting, irrigation, harvesting, transporting corn to refinery, energy to refine, energy to transport ethanol by truck to coastal refineries to blend with gasoline) and the real cost per gallon is staggering.

                                    Do you think the push to grow corn for ethanol is threatening the long term quality of the soil?

                                    1. re: Tom34

                                      It doesn't have to. The price of beans is at $15 per bushel so most farmers are still rotating between the two.

                            2. Now might be a good time to buy and freeze meat -- before the prices start to rise.

                              "Cattle farmers in several states have already started selling off or culling cattle because the drought has ruined grass for grazing and the price for corn for feed has skyrocketed.

                              Daniel R. Glickman, the agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, said that as farmers started reducing or selling their herds, meat prices could fall because of a glut of beef on the market."
                              http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/26/bus...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: racer x

                                I wonder if the cattle will go straight from the fields to slaughter or will they spend some time on the feed lot. The former may put a lot of low grade beef on the market.

                                I wish there was an alternative fuel that was environmentally friendly and practical to produce that could put a dent in the 800 to 900 MILLION gallons of crude a day we go through but there just isn't and we are not even close to having one.

                                The best and most practical solution is cutting back on consumption. A 4000 to 5000 lb vehicle that goes from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds to haul around a couple hundred lbs of people and a few bags of groceries is ridiculous. So are our driving habits like flooring it from one light to another.

                                1. re: Tom34

                                  1. I grew up eating cull cows that went straight from field to slaughter and I recall it being pretty tasty. We DID have good quality pastures.

                                  2. I don't see that happening until gasoline gets a lot more expensive than it is now.

                                  1. re: kengk

                                    Whats growing in the pasture does seem to make a big difference. I don't know for sure but I would guess most of the mass produced animals heading to slaughter from this drought were NOT raised in the same manner as what you grew up with.

                                    A $2.00 per gallon tax phased in over a 5 year period would go a long way..... but I am sure that would have negative economic consequences to certain segments of our already shaky economy.

                              2. Cry me a river, literally. Because of the midwest drought, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is at some of the lowest levels in years with decreased river flows and runoff. Also, Texas has had ample rains due to the change in weather patterns, after being stuck, statewide in one hundred year droughts. One's pain is another's pleasure. Perhaps you can eat what is predicted to be a bumper crop of Gulf shrimp, instead of midwest beef. Oh yes, we grow lots of vegetables down here.

                                Edit, a little government research:

                                http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                  egads, had not thought of the salty oysters.

                                2. What is interesting about the drought is that here in central Minnesota we have had a lot of rain. The corn looks great as do the beans. Not too far south it gets dry. With some timely rain in the next few weeks the farmers in southern Minnesota should at least get 100 bushel corn which at the current prices would still be considered a successful year. Many of the crop farmers in other parts of the U.S. have already chopped what corn they had for silage so they don't have a total loss

                                  1. Hmm yeah, lets burn up some more corn for ethanol while we are at it. (grumbling about how Ethanol gas destroyed my generator)

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: PenskeFan

                                      Your generator must have been an older model. We have two generators, one about 10 years old and another maybe 5 years old and run ethanol blended gasoline in them exclusively (not by choice, that's the gas that is available) and have not had a problem.

                                      1. re: John E.

                                        Ours is 8 years old, we used to run exclusively non ethanol gas.

                                        But now since we can't get it without a 75 mile trip, my wife went and bought some gas then didnt shut down the generator properly like I showed her.

                                        With normal gas, that would mean we needed to clean the carburetor. With ethanol gas, we had to replace the carb and the fuel filter. Really not happy about that.

                                        Plus we can't store any fuel for it more than 3 months because of the phase separation. Ethanol absorbs thousands of times more water than regular gas, and only takes a few ounces of water to destroy a can of fuel.

                                        1. re: PenskeFan

                                          I'm just glad our generators handle the ethanol blend ok. You're right, finding non-ethanol gasoline is not always easy.

                                      2. re: PenskeFan

                                        Ethanol does not store well. Things that don't run frequently and burn the contents of the tank daily don't do well. People who own boats have been TERRORIZED by the crap. I am not sure but I think most marinas on the East coast have been using a non ethanol blend because the stuff was a disaster. People who trailer their boats have been warned not to be tempted by the cheaper ethanol blend at the auto pumps.

                                        1. re: Tom34

                                          And people who own lawn-mowers are also terrorized by it...we needed our lovely Honda mower's carburetor repaired due to the frickin' ethanol to the tune of $150..and advice to use SeaFoam additive from now on....I know many people here in SW Florida who have just flat-out SOLD their little boats due to ethanol nightmares...these are not yachts, folks, just modest small boats. ugh.

                                          1. re: Val

                                            Had to replace the carburetor on my snow blower because of it. Now during the off season, I run all gas engines dry, swab out the gas tank with a cotton T shirt, blow out the fuel lines & drain the carburetor bowls.

                                            ***If the carb doesn't have a drain, loosen the bolt on the bottom of the bowl a little and let the gas run out into a rag***

                                            A friend dumped $6000. getting his 250 HP outboard rebuilt because of ethanol. Have heard talk of boaters considering purging their tanks at sea during their last trip of the year and hitting the dock on empty thats how bad its getting.

                                            1. re: Tom34

                                              If someone is lazy and does not empty the gas tank on their small engine they can use this product:

                                              http://www.goldeagle.com/brands/stabi...

                                              1. re: John E.

                                                I have heard that the new Stabil for ethanol fuel can prevent corrosion but not the phase separation.

                                                With E15 coming down the pike, it is set to get even worse. And by worse, I mean both for small engines, as well as for food supply.

                                                1. re: PenskeFan

                                                  Combining an environmentalist & a politician is a dangerous thing. The heart may be in the right place but BOTH the science & the practicality are usually NOT.

                                                  As I said above, there is a reason Fossil fuels dominate. IMHO, the answer is to reduce vehicle weight & horse power and burn significantly less of it and continue research on alternatives, but ethanol AIN'T IT.

                                                2. re: John E.

                                                  I use Stabil throughout the winter in the snow blower gas but I still go through the drain "everything" drill above at the end of the snow season.

                                                  Use Stabil in the dead of summer in the lawn mower gas because without rain the grass goes dormant & the gas can hang around for a while. The carb for my 15 hp 2 cylinder Kawasaki motor on my mower is $250.00 so once again at the end of the season I do the drain everything drill.

                                                  1. re: Tom34

                                                    thank you...much to consider here!